03 June 2013

How to derive radical action for social justice and peace

David Lindsay writes:
"Why do we hear the loudest yelps for liberty from the drivers of Negroes?", asked Dr Johnson. Half rhetorically and half not, because you could do that if you were Dr Johnson.

In the words of Blessed John Henry Newman, "the special title of moralist in English literature is accorded by the public voice to Johnson, whose bias towards Catholicity is well known."

Johnson told Boswell that he thought Catholicism fundamentally different from other forms of Christianity, and certainly preferable to Presbyterianism, with Mass, Confession, Purgatory, prayers for the dead, invocation of the Saints, and so on, all more objectionable in practice than in principle, indeed in principle hardly objectionable at all.

Boswell records Johnson's saying that he would "be glad to be of a church where there are so many helps to get to heaven," and even that he "would be a Papist" were it not for "an obstinate rationality" which he hoped to be able to overcome "on the near approach of death," of which he had "a very great terrour."

No wonder, then, that (as with Swift, Dryden and Pope) rumours of Johnson's Jacobitism have never gone away. Indeed, they are very much the subject of lively discussion at present, and hardly for the first time.

Far from the centres of power, among the more or less politically excluded subcultures of Catholics, High Churchmen (and then first Methodists and then also Anglo-Catholics, as well as Scottish Episcopalians), Congregationalists, Baptists and Quakers, there persisted an ancestrally Jacobite disaffection with the legitimacy of the Hanoverian State, of that State's Empire, and of that Empire's capitalist ideology.

The foundation, and the fullest expression, of that ideology was, of course, the slave trade, to the proponents of which the Lord Bishop of Salisbury has tastefully compared Dr John Sentamu and all the Anglican and other church leaders in Africa and the Caribbean, as well as the present and every previous Pope.

To this or any other day, slavery is the plenitude of capitalism, the advocates of which cannot oppose it in principle simply in itself. No wonder that the High Tories Johnson, Wesley, Newman and Wilberforce were so opposed to slavery, along with all the Popes.

Slavery is the ultimate manifestation of the need for political action in, and sometimes against, the market. The present global economic situation fully demonstrates this incontrovertible fact.

That ancestrally Jacobite disaffection produced Tory action against the slave trade, Tory and Radical action against domestic social evils, Tory and Radical extensions of the franchise, the creation of the Labour Movement, and the opposition to the Boer and First World Wars.

It also motivated many of those Maryland and other Catholics, of those Quakers, of those Congregationalists, and of those Episcopalians (a product of the old pre-Tractarian High Churchmanship, and as a separate body a direct offspring of its Scottish namesake rather than of the Church of England), with Methodists and Baptists to follow in such enormous numbers, who adhered to the rebellion of the yelping Deist drivers, but who turned the Republic thus founded into something very different from that which those Founders had envisaged.

James Edward Oglethorpe, a Jacobite, opposed slavery in Georgia. Anti-slavery Southerners during the American Civil War were called "Tories".

Likewise, Radical Liberals in Britain, with their deep roots in the Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Methodist and Baptist milieux even when looking to the leadership of the High Church Gladstone, were anti-capitalist in their action against the opium dens, against the unregulated drinking and gambling, and against the compelling of people to work seven-day weeks that have all now returned to the British scene.

What next? Slavery? Forms of it are already upon us, notably in the commercial sex industry that is simply the "free" market in action, irresistible by those who will not resist that system.

The same is true of drugs, which we obtain frankly from slave-drivers. That is but one among numerous examples of how, for the most part, we have outsourced slavery.

As we always did: in principle, and even though those slaves who did arrive here very rarely experienced the slightest change in their conditions, their condition was nevertheless held to have changed entirely, since the ownership of one human being as the property of another was always still legally impossible upon the very soil of This Blessed Plot.

A state of affairs which recalled and recalls the pre-capitalist, pre-imperial, pre-Williamite, pre-Whig order to which Dr Johnson was so attached, like the Romantics, the Tractarians, the Catholic Revivalists, the Gothic Revivalists, Ruskin, the Pre-Raphaelites and the Chesterbelloc after him.

Radical action for social justice and for peace derived from testing the State and its policies against theologically grounded criteria of legitimacy. It still does.


  1. My pleasure, David! Please keep up the great writing!